The Best Simple Messages for Last!

7. Belong

Another common ground shared among the centenarians that were interviewed was belonging to a faith-based organization – any faith, because denomination varied. I am not here to tell you what or what not to believe in, but I can talk about all the reasons why this message makes complete sense to me. If we believe that everything is in our control and that we can dictate and plan every aspect of our lives, we are placing a tremendous burden and pressure on ourselves. This can ultimately lead to chronic stress, hopelessness, and a constant feeling of dissatisfaction with ourselves. When we take that power and place it on a higher being or force, we allow ourselves to be relieved of a burden that should never have been ours in the first place.

Faith allows us to believe, and honestly, what do we have in this life if we don’t have something to believe in? Letting go of the need to be in control allows you to free yourself of many things that have been dictating your life – your daily mood, thoughts, feelings, and methods of approaching everyday life. We all know what these stresses and anxieties can do to our health, both physically and mentally, which explains why these messages don’t solely focus on nutrition. Wellness is about so much more than just the foods going into our bodies. The way we view the world, cope with our emotions, and the people we choose to surround ourselves with can become make or break factors in our overall health.

Plus, sharing those same beliefs with others creates a safe, dependable community around you (hopefully – if you’ve found the right place for you). No matter how introverted you may be, everyone has the desire to belong and feel loved in some way or another. You can be the most independent and strong person in the world, but that doesn’t mean these words don’t apply to you. Through the triumphs, good times, obstacles, and days when your world feels like it’s crashing down around you – we all need that safety net support system – in whatever form it may come.

8. Loved Ones First love

Let me ask you something. What would be our purpose without love? I mean when it comes down to it, all of our actions are driven by it. It truly does make the world go ‘round. And I’m not just talking about romantic love, but love for family and friends, too. “Family first” is an essential motto for the centenarians of the Blue Zones. Interestingly enough, when aging parents and grandparents live close by or in the same home as their children lowers not only their own disease and mortality rate, but the children’s as well. To me, it’s not surprising that having the family together – relying and depending on one another – would increase life expectancy. Life comes full circle and when children are raised with love and care, there is a mutual understanding and desire in these societies to then return the favor when the parents age.

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While in an ideal world everyone would have this kind of family dynamic, it is of course not the reality for everyone. But, “Loved Ones First” can translate to more than just family, and should! There’s nothing more important than a true friend and companion. Even if it’s one person, one person that will always be there – and that you will always be there foryou’ll never be or even feel alone. It’s that person who can eliminate your fears and anxieties with a simple phone call or chat, because no matter what happens in this unpredictable world, that love and trust you share is forever constant. Doesn’t it make sense that sharing your days with someone who brings joy into your life (whether in a romantic relationship or not) would increase your quality of life, and in turn, your life expectancy? “Loved Ones First” is a mutual understanding and bond, leaving us with an inner peace we all so desperately need to survive.

9. Right Tribe

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And last but definitely not least …. finding the right tribe! Believe it or not, the people we choose to surround ourselves with each day have a major impact on our health. Research has shown that smoking, obesity, happiness and loneliness are contagious; and while that may come as no surprise, we probably forget to remind ourselves of this in a social situation. I believe this last message plays a major role in the longevity of the people living in the Blue Zones. These people were either born into or find their own tribe that supports healthy behaviors. We constantly influence each other’s actions and justify our unhealthy behaviors by claiming that others are doing the same thing, so it’s therefore okay for us to do them, as well. We feed off of each other’s attitudes, moods, and decisions. I’m sure everyone has experienced this ripple effect in different ways. For example, you might go on vacation and decide that you still want to exercise while you are away. You won’t be missing out on any fun times or enjoying yourself any less, you just want to stay active and know that you feel even better and happier after working out. But then, everyone around you starts teasing you and tells you to just relax, drink, and eat because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. You finally decide to give in and think, “what the heck, I guess I am being too weird/uptight/obsessive” etc etc.

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Now I’m not discouraging anyone from relaxing, eating, and drinking on vacationthat would just be against everything I stand for. However, I also don’t believe that anyone has the right, or that you should allow, someone to make you feel guilty for adopting a healthy habit. Yet the sad reality is, because these behaviors are contagious, that peer pressure tends to push us further away from any healthier intentions we may have set for ourselves.

Happiness and loneliness … that’s an interesting one to delve into as well. Have you ever been in a toxic relationship? Whether with a friend, significant other, family member or peer, this is the first dynamic that comes to mind when I imagine emotions that begin to spread like wildfire among us. Sometimes we get so used to how we allow ourselves to be treated or how we’re treating someone else in a relationship, that we don’t even take a moment to step back and view the interactions from the outside looking in. If this is something you have experienced, the second you finally do get that chance is definitely eye-opening. You might think to yourself, “What am I doing? Where have I been this entire time? And wow, spending my time with this person is making me completely miserable.” This is a real thing, and most definitely a part of our lives worth reflecting on. There’s not much in this world we get to control, but one part that we have total power over is who we choose to spend our time with. Choose the people that you find yourself smiling around, because that smile is not only influencing your inner circle; it’s being noticed by the people and in the places that you least expect. And who knows, maybe it was that random passerby that needed a stranger’s smile the most.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my take on these 9 life lessons from the Blue Zones as much as I enjoyed writing about them! These are all simple steps that can create major improvements in our happiness, quality of life, and overall health. And don’t we all want to make the most of this one life we have to live? I know I do!

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Simple Messages continued (#4, 5, 6)

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but there was no way I couldn’t finish my thoughts on the Blue Zones and their important messages. So here it goes continuing on from my last post (see below).

4. 80% Rule

It’s a tradition in Okinawa to say the phrase “Hara hachi bu” before every meal, which serves as a reminder to eat only until your stomach is 80% full. I find it amazing that this is a Confucian teaching from 2500 years ago, which just goes to show us that this idea is not a new concept. You may have heard before to slow down while eating, because it takes our brains around 20 minutes to register that our stomachs are full. It’s very difficult, especially the way our culture is today, to remind ourselves just how much of a difference this simple idea can make in our overall health and enjoyment of food. 

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We live in a world where the more that can get done at once in the shortest amount of time, the better. But how is that affecting us? Well, we’re eating while doing a million other things at once, shoveling food into our mouths and rushing to the next activity. Even eating a meal at a restaurant, an intentional decision to make that specific meal more of an experience and social hour, has become a race to finish huge portion sizes in a short amount of time. Because that’s only fair to the others that are waiting, right? We almost need to re-teach ourselves what once was, when a meal was about sitting down with others, talking about the day, and actually having the luxury of chewing our food. We need to get that phrase that Mom and Dad once taught that we must lick our plates clean before we are allowed to do anything else, free from our minds. Especially when that plate is served for one, but can easily feed two or three! Look, I’m not here to judge anyone’s portion sizes or tell you not to enjoy your food. In fact, I think the main result of this mantra is quite the opposite. By reminding yourself not to eat to the point of discomfort, which we all have done, you’ll end up enjoying your meal even more. Feeling satisfied and satiated. And the best part is, you may even have room for dessert!

This all being said, it’s no wonder the Okinawans have 80% less incidence of heart disease than in the U.S., as well as lower rates of cancer. And I bet they’re smiling after each meal, too. 

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5. Plant Slant

Dan Buettner discovered that beans are a staple among the centenarian’s regular diets across each of the Blue Zones. Can I just talk about beans for a minute? It seems like they get such a bad reputation these days, and it makes me sad. There aren’t many natural foods that can give you a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a boat load of fiber, all rolled into one small nugget. Yes, they have carbohydrates in them; I think that’s one reason that the mention of a bean may cause that dramatic gasp you may have experienced. But guess what? They also have a low glycemic index (rate at which our blood sugars rise), because of all that fiber that’s in them. Let’s not pretend like the carbohydrates that are in a bean (a natural food) are the same as the carbohydrates found in white breads, white pastas, cookies, and cakes (processed foods, despite their rating of deliciousness). Plus, most Americans are lacking in fiber intake as it is, so why not get it from an unprocessed, whole food, rather than relying on powders, pills, and whatever other synthetic concoction some scientists come up with tomorrow. 

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Meat is eaten an average of 5 times per month. Guess what? That means these people are only getting protein and iron from a meat source about once a week, and they’re still surviving! Not just surviving, but living to the age of 100 and beyond. There’s a big misconception among us Americans about the amount of protein we need in a day. With all the protein powders, shakes, and bars available wherever you go, it’s not surprising that that’s the case. But the truth is, on an average we actually consume more protein than our body needs. Plus, our only source of iron is not just red meat. What about dark leafy greens, whole grains, potatoes, nuts/seeds, dark chocolate (my personal fave) and wait for it … beans!!

Let me take a moment to clarify that I’m not advocating for a vegetarian or vegan diet by any means. I believe that to be a personal decision and that every individual is different. However, I do believe that we can still be mindful of balancing our sources of food. There are a ton of foods out there that have gone through no fancy form of processing or manipulating, whether to increase its protein content or otherwise, yet they are nutritional powerhouses left just the way they are. And I don’t know about you, but finding beauty in something left untouched is my definition of perfection.

6. Wine at 5:

I think it’s safe to say that for some of us, this might be the best news yet! Apparently, with the exception of the Adventists, people of the Blue Zones drink moderately on a regular basis. Moderately is the key word here – so no, binge drinking on the weekend isn’t going to help you live longer. But, 1-2 glasses of red wine a day during a meal among friends can actually be beneficial to our health. This does make me wonder if it’s more so about the resveratrol found in red wine that may offer protection against heart disease, or if it’s simply about relaxing and enjoying with friends that offers us a dose of happiness we need every day. Either way, CHEERS! 

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Simple Messages from the Power 9®

(Alexis and I were the happiest humans when this photo was taken, making it appropriate for this post).

I am going to get a little bit off topic here, but ever since I learned about the Blue Zones (the five places in the world with the longest-lived and healthiest people), I was so intrigued and just had to talk about it. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and author, discovered these zones and along with other researchers found nine common factors among them. It is called the Power 9®, and he discusses the diet and lifestyle habits of these individuals who live to be 100 and beyond. In this post I am talking about the first three, and will continue with the rest in future posts. There is so much to say and I am over-excited!

Below are the first three of the Power 9®:

1. Move Naturally    

It seems to be a common mission in this day and age to discover the best and most efficient workout that will result in miracles – whether it’s HIIT training, a workout DVD that guarantees a sculpted body, or a Zumba class offered by the local gym. But when we stop to think about it, being healthy and in shape didn’t begin to exist once gyms and televisions were created. So how was it possible to get a good workout in without the personal trainers, equipment, classes, and machines that are all available to us today? The answer is simple. The world’s longest lived people move naturally throughout the day because their daily chores and activities already incorporate physical labor.

Imagine how many steps a day we would take without the simple pleasure of a car, walking a few miles each day just to do our everyday errands and chores. It’s no wonder we now have to create a tool that we wear around our wrists just to make sure we get at least 10,000 steps a day. Sometimes it’s a struggle to even come close to 10,000 steps without dedicating extra time outside of our daily routines for exercise. Sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day is not quite so conducive to moving naturally.

So what does this mean for us? Do we have to get new jobs that are more physically demanding just to potentially live longer? No – but we just might have to put in a little more effort and get a bit more clever to work with the environment and routine we’ve got.

Here are some ideas:

  • If you do have a low activity job, get up every hour at work and move around, even for just a few seconds. Your mind and muscles will thank you for it.
  • If you do live walking distance from work or any errands you might have, take the opportunity! The environment and your health will thank you for it.
  • Find hobbies and activities that you enjoy that involve movement. Get-togethers with friends don’t always have to involve eating and drinking. Trust me, you’ll have a lot of time to catch up and learn about one another on a hike or walk just as well.

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…and some suggestions you might have already heard a thousand times

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator: a free workout for your hamstrings!
  • Park a little bit further away from where you are trying to go. You’re wasting more time trying to find the closest spot possible… since that’s what everyone else is trying to do too.
  • Your workout does not have to be all at once. I don’t think anyone can argue that they do not have 10 minute increments of time on their hands in the day. Take those small amounts of time to move around three times per day, and that is a 30 minute workout right there! And if you still don’t think you have the time, shave off a few of those minutes you’re spending on your phone, watching the television, or on Facebook. (I’m just assuming, but I think it’s most likely a fair assumption).

2. Purpose

According to Dan Buettner’s “Reverse Engineering Longevity”, simply having a sense of purpose can extend our life expectancy up to seven years! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty amazing. Normally, we associate health and longevity with nutrition and exercise, but it extends beyond so much more than that. Our outlook and attitude that we wake up with each day about our lives and the world we live in has a great impact on our overall health. Knowing your purpose means starting each day with a reason to do so, most likely translating into a more positive attitude, motivation, and fulfillment.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Even if we do have a sense of purpose and have always known how we wanted to spend our lives or contribute to society in some way, how common is it to land your dream job or feel that you’re living the life you’ve always wanted right from the start of your independence? Think of how many people complain about their first entry-level positions, or all of the Hollywood stars that started out waiting tables just to pay for their acting/dancing/singing classes. Then think of the answer to that question: Not so common! The point is, everything takes time. Just because you might not be living the exact life you want right now, does not mean it’s impossible to start working toward it, which gives you a purpose in and of itself.

So what do we do to figure out what our purpose is? A purpose does not have any one definition – it can be anything from raising children, to taking care of your grandmother, to being a famous actress, to traveling the world – everything and anything that gives you a reason to wake up in the morning. Do yourself a favor and carve out the time for some self-reflection. Figure out what it is that inspires you, that you feel you are good at, and most importantly, what makes you happy. Then, decide what you can do to take the first step to get there. It could take 1 year or it could 10 years, but at least you’ll feel purposeful on the journey there.

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3. Down Shift

There is nothing more important than identifying stress relief activities or tactics that work for you and that you enjoy. We all experience stress, including those individuals that may live in a more relaxed environment than others. However, the difference between those that utilize techniques to manage the stress versus those that do not have a clear way of understanding the emotion and how to control it, can mean the difference of health and sickness.

This might help to break it down a little bit. Stress not only raises our blood pressure and weakens our immune system, but also causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of inflammatory diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It seems like just another emotion we all deal with on a daily basis, but understanding the effects it can have on our body allows us to prioritize stress management in regards to our overall health.

So what are some ways to deal with stress, since we sure as heck aren’t going to get rid of it altogether?

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Here are some thoughts:

  • Exercise: There’s nothing like some good ‘ol exercise to get your blood flowing and your mind cleared. By raising your feel good hormones (endorphins), it’s a natural way to boost your mood and attitude toward whatever you might be facing. I understand that sometimes it feels like the last thing you would want to do after a long, tiring day, but honestly, have you ever regretted working out once it’s said and done? I always try to imagine how good I will feel after the fact versus continuing to feel the stress and sluggishness of the present moment, and use that as my source of motivation to get me moving – even if it’s as simple as a short walk.
  • Meditation: When is the last time you truly cleared your mind, taking a few moments just for yourself? By focusing solely on your breath, inhale – hold – exhale, it can help to drown out all the background noise in your head, and in turn, clear your mind. With the constant distractions in our everyday lives amplified by the overuse of technology, we sometimes forget the power that just a simple moment of internal peace and quiet can do.
  • Socialization: My favorite stress relief routine identified among inhabitants of the Blue Zones is what the Sardinians choose to do: happy hour. Oftentimes feeling stressed leads to internalization and the desire to be left alone. But sometimes, simply having fun with friends and getting your mind off of what’s worrying you might be just what the doctor ordered. What good will it do to stay home alone and drown in your own anxiety-filled, repetitious thoughts? Surrounding yourself with people that you actually enjoy being around (rather than those toxic individuals that have a tendency to bring everyone down), will boost your mood and probably give you a more positive outlook on any stress you might be dealing with. Whatever might be going on, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone.

I hope that these first three factors were inspiring in some way and gave you something new to think about. We all have the power to improve our overall health despite what our genetic make-up might say. Buettner points out that according to the Danish Twin Study (1995-2005), only 20% of our longevity is determined by genes. So let’s stop making excuses and start getting to work!

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Study it and love it! More to come on the next 6! 🙂

Sweet, Sweet, Summertime

Spring has arrived, and will hopefully bring us an abundance of flowers, warmer weather, and a new bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the season has just begun, one walk around the mall and the sight of the store displays will have us daydreaming about beach vacations and summertime barbecues. Display after display of disproportioned mannequins in bikinis, posters of models running on the beach, and new racks filled with skimpy clothing reminds us of the approaching summer. Unfortunately, while there is much to look forward to in the coming months – outdoor activities, longer days, vacations, and even those delicious barbecues – a sense of anxiety may be the reality for many. Summer means bathing suits and bathing suits mean exposure and vulnerability to feeling worse about our bodies than we already do. To make matters worse, we seem to find others all around us who have, by all indications, achieved a state of perfection.

Now is the time that we can expect to find humorous memes all over social media about how our “summer bodies” aren’t ready; maybe they feature a picture of an adorable dog with rolls covering its body, or a cute chubby baby in a bathtub.

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Photo via ME.ME

Don’t get me wrong. I do find the humor in these kinds of images, and I know they are only meant for entertainment as we scroll through our Facebook or Instagram. The problem is, there is an underlying message there that stays with us: figure out a way to quickly lose weight in a short amount of time in order to look acceptable in a bathing suit. The key phrase here is, quickly lose weight”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with actively adopting healthier eating and exercise habits, but this is most successful in strides, as an ongoing process. Without this mindset, it is as if the motivation to lose weight is coming from a state of panic, and nothing good can come from quick-fix, fast weight loss. It is not uncommon for something as simple as an upcoming beach party to start the beginning stages of an individual’s disordered eating pattern, and he or she may not realize until many months later that these new behaviors may be a cause for concern.

So… how do many of us opt to get “summer ready”? Maybe by cutting out a food group that we think causes stomach bloating; maybe, we eliminate half of the day’s intake; or, we go on a juice cleanse; hey, how about avoiding fruits because those have sugar and sugar is terrible for our summer body preparation, right?! Most of the time when we change something in our diets resulting in lower calorie intake than what our bodies are used to, weight loss is fast in the beginning. Step on the scale after two days of dieting and maybe it’s already reflecting a two-pound weight loss!

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This serves as a reinforcement to continue whatever new habits have been adopted in our diet, however unhealthy they may be. Before long we become obsessed with weighing ourselves, and stepping on the scale is the first thing on our minds when we wake up in the morning. Many individuals tell me that they become addicted to a daily weigh-in, thinking that staying on top of any slight weight gain will keep them on track. The reason this can do more harm than good is because our weight is constantly fluctuating on a daily basis for reasons other than true weight gain – such as, fluid retention, lack of sleep, or changes in hormones. This is why it’s best to monitor weight once a week, on the same day at the same time, in order to see real changes over time. As disappointing as it may sound, once our bodies become used to a change in diet and exercise after the first week or two, a healthy weight loss pattern will only be about one to two pounds per week. Because of this, it’s no wonder that seeing the same number each day on that darn machine can lead to disappointment and self-loathing.

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You might be asking, what’s the big deal about wanting to lose a few pounds to look good in our bathing suits? Well, we should feel confident in our own skin, and if that means toning up and making better food choices for ourselves, then there is definitely no harm or shame in that! Even if the goal is for noticeable changes in our outward appearance, there is no doubt that healthier food choices and physical activity will have us feeling better and happier, too! You are what you eat, right? The point is, why not try to be kind to our bodies throughout the year, rather than deciding that the only time our health and fitness is important is when we realize our bodies will soon be exposed for others to judge? We deserve to make our happiness, confidence, and self-love a priority throughout the year, because we owe ourselves that much. And, while a perfectly sculpted body might be nice to have, achieving it does not mean that we have found a way to truly accept ourselves. Being kind to our bodies has nothing to do with the number on the scale, but about fueling it properly with whole, natural foods and about continuing to move throughout the day. Trust me when I say there is nothing kind about living off of vegetable juice for a few months to drop some weight quickly and easily, then resorting back to regular eating habits and gaining it back again. Instead of reaching a healthy weight gradually and enjoying a new look that we can maintain throughout the year, we will only feel discouraged when the pounds come creeping back up after the bathing suit is put away.

Your value is much more than a number on the scale. If you lose one pound a week, so what? That is fifty-two pounds in one year. The best part is, you won’t be hungry.

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Comparison

Today, a passage in the book I am reading, Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty, caught my eye, and matched up perfectly with the theme I wanted to talk about in this blog entry. In the scene, one woman (a married mother of two, probably in her thirties), is admiring and complimenting the physique of another mother in her neighborhood who is around the same age as she. The woman is wearing a tight white t-shirt and ripped jeans and still looks like a model. The married mother of two compliments the sexy blonde, but the latter does not know how to respond because “[y]ou weren’t allowed to be proud of your body. Women expected humility on this topic” (Moriarty, 322).

What I want to know is, why is that? We can and should be proud of our bodies and all that they allow us to do, yet, somehow, we are made to believe that no matter how we choose to feel about the way we look, the outcome is a double-edged sword. If we accept a compliment, we are narcissistic and show-offs, yet if we remain modest or become self-conscious when others notice our bodies, we clearly lack confidence. The bottom line is that we compare ourselves to others all the time, and there is nothing comfortable in that behavior, neither for the envious nor for the envied. I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that at least once in your life, you have looked at someone else, whether live, on the T.V. screen, or in a picture, and thought to yourself, “I want to look like that.” What we must work toward accepting is that it is not only physically impossible to look exactly like someone else, but also that we should not wish for it. What kind of a world would it be if everyone looked the same? Not aesthetically pleasing at all.

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Let’s talk about why a “one size fits all” concept for body shape, diet, and exercise is a recipe for failure. First of all, genetics play a major role in determining our body types. Do you ever feel like you’re eating the same way as someone else, and maybe even doing the exact same workout routine, and wondering why your body isn’t changing in the same way? You can beat yourself up over this, cut back on calories, or work out for an extra hour to the point of discomfort, to try to match the other person’s results. The only result you will achieve is frustration. The other option is to understand your own body. While it can be an unfair reality that we all have different metabolisms, leading to our building muscles and losing fat at different rates, there are certain factors that we CAN change.  What we can change is our attitude. We can be kind to ourselves and celebrate the ability to live a healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition and exercise. If that means being pear-shaped instead of a string bean, then so be it. Is it really so important to have a specific butt shape or a six-pack? What is important is our HAPPINESS, and I can tell you that if we are killing ourselves trying to maintain or reach a weight that is not natural for our bodies, the only thing we’ll be feeling is irritable and HANGRY.

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This idea even applies to the way we choose to eat. For example, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, however, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to maintain a healthy diet without the consumption of animal products. What works for my body will not be the same as what works for yours, and vice versa. I am always asked the question, “What is the best diet out there? Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Intermittent fasting?” and my answer every time is that there is no best diet. What I can say is that as long as you’re getting all of the essential nutrients in the right quantities by eating a balanced diet, making sure you’re fueling yourself adequately, and living by the motto everything in moderation”, then you will be good to go. Eat the way that makes you feel your best and most importantly, choose a pattern of eating that can be sustained over the long term, rather than last for just a few months or a few years.

Amy Schumer said it best in her new Netflix stand-up show Amy Schumer: The Leather Edition. She discusses her struggle with her weight and the added pressures from Hollywood to be thin. She worked hard to achieve the desired “look” but felt unnatural at the body weight she reached and went back to her “old self”. She received a lot of criticism for gaining weight and is now speaking up against her body-shamers. Her response to them comes from the lessons she has learned while watching her father be stripped of a simple pleasure that we take for granted every day: walking. Her father has MS and is confined to a wheelchair. Schumer ends her show with words that should help her audience, and us,  reset priorities: “You’re alive. You can move. You feel good!”

And with that, I leave you with these words of wisdom by Theodore Roosevelt:

Image result for comparison is the thief of joy printable Photo credit: Skinny Artist